Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting in the Spirit... Focusing on the Reason

I just can't help myself.  I've set my Pandora to Christmas music.  It's calming and uplifting at the same time.  I have a new favorite that I wanted to share.

There are 27 days until Christmas Eve.  I'm right on track with where I'd like to be.  I have a few Christmas cards to write.  I'm done shopping.  I'm wrapping presents for about 20 min. each evening so there's no big rush, and I have all of the materials for the gifts I'm making.

This week/weekend I plan to focus on finishing up the projects I intend to use as gifts.  That might include making that batch of pumpkin butter and the batch of apple pie jelly.  We'll see how the weekend goes.  We'll also start celbrating in earnest.  The advent calendars will come out, and the first candle on the advent wreath will be lit. 

I feel so relaxed this year.  It's not just being ready early.  It's also having a clear plan and being organized.  I'm also decluttering as I go - thank you Fly Lady, so my house is getting cleaner and more peaceful each day.  I don't know about you, but a house without a lot of stuff, and with that stuff in the right place makes me relaxed.

Yesterday the kids and I did cookie baking number two.  We made Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread cookies - a recipe from Jane at Thy Hand.  I follow her recipe, but I double it.  These are my favorite cookies.  We also made Rice Crispy Treats.  I think you all know about this one, but just in case you don't, here's a link.  I love being in the kitchen with my kids, but it does drive me just a little bit crazy when they keep munching on the ingredients.  I swear they wash their hands every time they stick their little paws in their mouths.  But, no matter how many times I remind them that we are baking for other people they just can't resist.  Anyone have any ideas?

Eating the sugar is half the fun. 

Licking the butter is the other half.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Falls Ridge: Hiking in the George Washington National Forest

It's a chilly morning here.  The wood stove is heating up, and the coffee is brewed.  The sky looks like snow, and I'm dreaming (and hoping) for the day when I'll look up toward the mountain and won't be able to see it because it will be covered by a snow storm cloud heading our way. 
The mountain has had snow once this fall already (result of Sandy).  So, a few days after that storm we hiked to the top.  We had a great time playing in the snow, and a taste of what (hopefully) is to come. 
The Falls Ridge trail is one of our favorites.  We almost never see anyone else out there.  It's got great views.  It's fairly short (4 miles) and we can usually do it in a few hours.  It's steep so you also get a great workout.
To get there find the town of Jerome, VA.  When you see the church turn right onto Dellinger Gap.  Follow that road to the end (it will turn to dirt).  Cross the creek and you'll see the trail.  Follow the Fat Mountain Trail first, then head up the mountain to Falls Ridge.  There is a short spur trail halfway up the mountain that takes you to the falls.  Eventually you will make it to the top of North Mountain and the junction of the North Mountain Trail and the Stack Rock Trail.  Stack Rock can be followed down if you want to make a loop. 
Our kids are used to hiking steep trails so this is a good choice for them, but this is probably not the best choice for little kids or ones who aren't used to hiking.  

Farmer Dan, Soccer Boy and Reading Girl create a cairn to mark the trail.

The woodsman on the steepest part of the trail.

View of the village of Jerome, VA



Getting Daddy!

American Chestnut burr
My Dad was really excited to find this American Chestnut burr.  He said that the trees don't usually grow big enough to produce seed pods.  Maybe they will eventually come back from the blight.

American Chestnut Tree and Leaf

At the top

Another View of the village of Jerome

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Life of Pie

Four Pies for Thanksgiving

Sometimes I have a hard time making decisions.  This was one of those times.  I'm bringing the pies for our family Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.  A slightly less adventurous  crazy woman would have made plain old pumpkin just like Grandma has done for the past 60 years.  But, I have a small addiction.  I'm guessing that some of your suffer too. 
I can't stop reading, clipping and trying new recipes.  I also have a really hard time making decisions about desserts - they all just sounded so good. 
I started this process on Sunday.  I baked down a huge Cushaw pumpkin (a gift from my dentist - love living in the country).  Then yesterday I made a double batch of pie crust.  This afternoon I tossed all of the pulp into my Vita Mix and let it churn it into silky smoothness.
Then I started baking pies.  The whole house smells fantastic.The kids were really irritated with me because I wouldn't let them taste anything.  It didn't even take that long because I had a lot of the prep work done.  Now, I only have one problem.
Which one do I eat tomorrow?

Step 1:  Roast and remove skin
Step 2:  Puree in blender or food processor

Step 3:  Pies!

Pumpkin Pie from Jane at Thy Hand

Sweet Potato Pie another great one from Jane at Thy Hand

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheese Cake from the Simply In Season Blog 

and one non-pumpkin

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan

This one came from our local steak house: Joe's.
It was the easiest pie to make - also the least local and least healthy.  But it had a wonderful heady smell.  I had to stop myself from taking a shot of bourbon while I cooked.  After all, it was only 2 in the afternoon. 
Put 2 oz. of chopped baking chocolate and 1 1/2 c. of pecan halves on the bottom of a pie shell.
Then Mix together
1/4 c. softened butter
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. dark Karo syrup
Add  1/2 t. vanilla,  3 T bourbon and 1/4 t. salt
Pour mixture over nuts/chocolate.
Bake at 350 for 45 min.  May need to bake 15 more if it is not quite set.
What was on your table?

Pictures from our trip to Plimoth Plantation

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

State of the Garden: November

Soccer Boy hopes to turn these into bird houses and instruments 
He was inspired by the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra. 
The garden is pretty much closed until February.  Spring Garlic and onions are planted, and there are some spring greens growing under row cover - I won't even peak at them until after ski season.  A bit of Swiss Chard and a handful of beets and parsnips are lingering out there- we havn't had a really hard frost.  We'll be eating them soon. 

I do have two small canning projects - pumpkin butter and apple pie jelly.  I'll probably do those two this coming weekend, so I can be really, truly done by the beginning of December.

The gourds were the last official big harvest.  It was a good year - but even thinking about next year tires me out.  Isn't winter amazing - by the time the spring rolls around I will have forgotten how much time I spent out in the garden, and I'll be just itching to get out there and get my hands in the dirt. 

Harvest Tally 2012


14 1/2 pints Grandma's Strawberry Rhubarb Jam:
14 quarts peaches
21 quarts nectarines
40 pints salsa
80 quarts applesauce
4 pints and 16 quarts tomatoes
12 pints dilly beans
6 pints pickled green tomatoes
6 pints horseradish beets
6 quarts apricots
9 pints pickled hot peppers
9 1/2 pints beet relish
6 pints pickled beets
9 quarts spaghetti sauce
20 pints apple butter
2 quarts pickled rosy turnips


16 loaves zucchini bread
3 gallons swiss chard
5 gallons corn
3 gallons green beans
6 gallons peaches
6 quarts blackberries
6 quarts blueberries
6 quarts tomato juice
3 quarts peach pie filling
6 pints whipped winter squash
2 gallons cauliflower
1 gallon broccoli

10 gallon bags of premeasured and chopped soup vegies ready for the crockpot
4 pans Chard Enchilladas
4 pans Garden Enchilladas
4 pans mac and cheese
1 pan zucchini Italian casserole
1 peach pie
2 pans Mommy's Recipe (chili cornbread casserole)
8 quarts chili
2 quarts broccoli cheddar soup
2 quarts kale potato soup
2 quarts autumn harvest vegetable soup

25 apple dumplings

Root Cellar

2 bushels sweet potatoes
1 bushel potatoes
4 bushels winter squash (gift from the laundry fairy and bought at pumpkin patch)
4 long braids garlic
3 braids onions (red, yellow and white)
1 5 gallon bucket of beets (layered in sand)
1 5 gallon bucket of turnips (layered in sand)
1/2 bushel parsnips
1/2 bushel white sweet potatoes
1 bushel pink lady apples (bought from local orchard)


2 small crocks sauerkraut
1 small crock kimchee

Sunday, November 18, 2012

35 to the 24th

Yesterday I wrapped the out of town gifts that need to be mailed and got them into a box.  I got out the kid's Christmas and Hanukkah books and we officially kicked off the holiday season with a reading of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.  Note:  we have no Jewish ties, but we think it's important to expose the kids to other religious traditions - Hanukkah is one way to talk about, and appreciate Judaism.

Today I addressed and wrote about a quarter of the Christmas cards, and the kids and I baked (and froze) two kinds of cookies.

This week I plan to:
1) Order the remaining few things I need online
2) mail out of town gift packages
3) wrap presents that belong at the farm -the kids will help with this- they'll decorate plain brown wrapping paper (saved from last year's packaging materials from items ordered online)
4) take said presents with me when we go there for Thanksgiving so they can sit in my mom's house instead of mine
5) Decorate the kitchen and the living room with the family on Wednesday afternoon.  This way the house will be clean and ready for Advent when we return.
6)  Buy the few things left on my list when I shop with my sister on Black Friday.  I'll also stock up on some clothes the kids need because the sale are good.
7)  Start wrapping family gifts and addressing more cards on Sunday.

So far I'm on track to just be able to enjoy the holiday with my family.  Today's cookie baking session was a perfect example.  By just doing two varieties there was no stress, and not too much clean up.  The kids and I had a great bonding time, and I didn't feel like I was chained to the oven for hours.

Here's what we made today:

Jan's Lemon Bars

Cut together and spread in greased jelly roll pan.
2 c. flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes at 350

Mix together:
4 eggs
2 c. sugar
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
Spread over the top of the baked crust and bake for 20 - 25 min. at 350
Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Cut when lukewarm.

Mrs. B's Monster Cookies

So called because of the monster amount they make.
(We cut this in half - 200 cookies just seemed CRAZY!)

Cream together:
1/4 c. vanilla
1 doz. eggs
1 1b. margarine
2 lbs. brown sugar
4 cups white sugar
Then add 3 lbs. peanut butter

Mix in 18 cups oatmeal
8 t. baking soda
1 lb. M&Ms
1 lb. chocolate chips
1 lb. walnuts
2 c. raisins

Drop by tablespoons on greased baking sheets.  Bake at 350 for 10 - 12 minutes.  These are a softer cookie.  They're gluten free, and they make a lot. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mountain Pies and other Fallish Things: Hiking and Camping at Trout Pond, WV

The weekend is a gorgeous one here.  It would be a great one to be camping.  We often go late in the fall because it's quiet and you pretty much have the place to yourself.  This year we went much earlier.  Camping has got to be one of our favorite family activities.  It's cheap, highly entertaining and you get to spend quality time together without being distracted by electronics and house work.  Fall is probably my favorite time to be out there. 
We love going to Trout Pond.  It's a campground in the National Forest in West Virginia (near Wardensville.  When we camp we always make Mountain Pies for dinner.  They're super simple and you can come up with all kinds of great combinations. 
Before you start,make sure you have a really good cooking fire.  You want nice coals here - not flame.
Here's the basic idea...
1)  Butter the outside of two pieces of some kind of bread.
2)  Put sauce and toppings of your choice - not too much - on the non buttered side of one slice.
3)  Cover with the other slice (butter side up).
4)  Spray a mountain pie maker with cooking spray.
5) Put your pie inside the maker and then cook for about a minute each side until toasty. 
6)  Eat!
Here are some of our favorites:
Pizza: white bread, pizza sauce, canned mushrooms, diced onion, diced green pepper, pepperoni
Greek:  mini pita (slit open on one side - fillings go inside) feta cheese, Greek olives, peppers, red onion
Mexi:  corn tortillas, refried beans, salsa, shredded Mexican cheese
Grilled Cheese:  a variety of cheeses
Breakfast:  English Muffin, slice of ham, a small amount of scrambled egg - pre-scrambled works best, sliced of American cheese
Dessert:  Pie Filling (apple, cherry, blueberry) and a piece of chocolate
Pumpkin Pie:  Libby's pumpkin pie filling (not just canned pumpkin) one marshmallow
Practicing the fine art of fire poking.
We also took a great hike with our friends around the back side of the campground and then around the dam.  It was a gorgeous day.

Witch Hazel  - I think....

Rockcliff Lake, - Trout Pond, WV

Wild edibles:  Winter Green and Birch Twigs

We're pretty sure this is a Leatherback - the kind of mushroom Mushroom man brings us.  Just to be safe, we didn't pick it.

We love taking our pop-up camper along.  If the site is level then we can have it up in about 15 min. Plus there's a lot more room than a tent, and we're in better shape if it rains on us.  I don't think we'll ever go back to tenting.  

We spent a rainy morning playing Forbidden Island: an incredible cooperative game.

Have you taken your family fall camping this year?  Where are your favorite places to camp?  We're always looking for a new adventure. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Organizing My Way to a Peaceful Holiday 1

The past few years I have been working really hard at being ready for Christmas early.  It's just no fun if you're rushing right up to the moments before Christmas.  I'm striving here to avoid nights with little sleep, and tense moments wondering if a gift will arrive on time.  In past years I waited to really get started thinking about Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  This year I'm starting early. I've really been inspired by Fly Lady.  I've downloaded her Holiday Control Journal and I'm doing my best to stay organized.

 I have almost all of the gifts bought and sorted into boxes for mailing, or bags for each recipient.  Starting on this weekend I plan to spend 20 minutes a day wrapping presents so it doesn't become an all nighter after the tree goes up. 

I've written out a list of the gifts I still need to get, and plan to have them purchased (or ordered) this weekend.  I am saving a little bit of money in my Christmas budget to do some shopping with my sister and mom on Black Friday.  However, this year, Black Friday will be much less about finding gifts, and much more about spending the day with those two wonderful women. 

We bake a lot of cookies around here.  The majority of them are destined for gifts, but I also like that during the busy holiday season knowing that dessert at least is done.  There have been previous years when we've done a marathon baking session, but usually by the time we're finished we're all exhausted and grouchy.  The kids and I are going to get a head start on our holiday baking on Sunday.  We plan to make three varieties of cookies each weekend, so we should be done by the second weekend in December. On Monday when we were driving to school we planned out the varieties we would make.  On Tuesday, I gathered all of the recipes and wrote my list and then  on Wednesday, when I did my regular grocery shopping I bought the ingredients we would need for all of our holiday baking.  This turned out to be a real bonus because there were great Thanksgiving sales. 

The only thing I haven't done is write a wish list out for myself.  I've had a hard time coming up with ideas for myself this year.  Everything I thought of was very utilitarian - as much as I want a new stock pot, I just don't want to recieve one under the tree. 

So, here are the things I've placed on my list.  What do you hope to see under the tree?

My Wish List

Into the Wild sound track by Eddie Vedder

Do you know about this book and movie?  So inspiring, yet so sad at the same time.  This is probably one of my favorite albums ever, but for some reason I've never owned a copy. 
Any music by the band Muse.  I'm particularly interested in their new album.

The Thy Hand Hath Provided Cookbook.  This blogger is one of my favorites.  She's a great friend and an inspiration.  I, just, cant, wait to have this book in my hands.  New cookbooks are one of my favorite kinds of presents.  I know that I'm going to use this one again and again until the cover falls off. 

Soap Making Supplies

This year I really, really am going to learn to make soap.  I have most of what I need, but I need to get a:
Digital Scale
8 cup pyrex measuring cup
Digital Thermometer
Oils:  Palm, Coconut, Sweet Almond, Lavender

Cheese Making Supplies

And... now that I'm getting local milk, I want to make cheese making (at least the soft cheeses) somthing that is just part of our daily lives.  We'll see...

Chevre Direct-set starter
Citric Acid
Liquid Rennet
Mesophilic Starter

I also want to do some more knitting this winter.  I plan to learn how to make hats.  I'm swimming in yarn, but I'm going to need some new needles.

How are your Christmas preperations coming?  Have you started yet?  Do you think I'm nuts for getting ready so soon?  What are you asking for?

Oh, if you're still looking for gifts for kids.  Check out the company Mindware.  I usually toss all catalogs for the kids directly into the recyling bin.  This is one catalog that I let them pour over.  Almost everything is reasonably priced, and there isn't a stupid item in the catalog.  It's all things that will help them learn and grow.  Soccer Boy has his eye on some solar cars that you build from a kit, and Reading Girl is hoping for some barret and bracelet making kits.

If all goes as planned by the time December is here I'll be ready to just do the fun parts of the holiday - bake, decorate and spend time with my wonderful family - can't wait!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wood and Apples: Bring on the Winter!

Every fall we head to my parents farm in Western Pennsylvania to make applesauce and so the Woodsman and Farmer Dan can cut,split and bring in the winter's supply of wood.  This year, for the first time, we invited my 89 year old grandmother to join us.  We had a wonderful day doing our fall apple and wood party.  The guys worked on the wood.  The applesauce and apple butter were primarily done by me and my mom - with help from grandma and my aunt.  The kids helped with both applesauce and with wood.
I love spending time with family like this.  My grandmother has always maintained that work you do by yourself is just that - work.  But, work you do together becomes fun.  I couldn't agree more.  The day started out clear, but cold.  Soon, it warmed up into a warm, wonderful autumn day.  We turned 2 1/2 bushels of apples into 40 quarts of sauce and 18 pints of apple butter.  We celebrated with warm gingerbread and applesauce.  But, mostly, we enjoyed the day together.  My grandma got lots of one on one time with each of the kids - and they were happy to chatter away to her while cutting.  My mom enjoyed the time in the kitchen with all of us working together, and I relished in being home on a gorgeous fall day, surrounded by those I loved - with a full pantry to boot.
The Woodsman drives the tractor down to the field.

Apples waiting to be washed.

Washing apples - this gave them very,  very cold hands.  Later we got smart and used warm water to wash.
Soccer Boy cuts apples - he does a good job, but it still makes me nervous.

Cooking down over the Turkey Cooker burner.
Both kids and Matka cut apples.

Beautiful lady I love you!

Mixing the gingerbread.

Almost soft enough to churn through.

The magic Victorio machine.

Reading Girl cranks the sauce through.

Finished gingerbread and Farmer Dan

Warm applesauce and gingerbread - yum!

Mom's Apple Butter

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1/2 bushel of apples makes approximately 18 pints.

Oven at   275            Can 10 minutes

14 c. sauce
4 c. brown sugar
4 T cinnamon
2/3 t cloves
1 t allspice
2 t lemon juice
(All spices are ground - not whole.)

Mix all of this together and put into several large, heavy pans (We use Dutch ovens and roasters).

Bake the butter down until thick  - about 6 - 8 hours.  It depends on how thick the sauce is when you start.  Stir about every hour. 

The apple butter is done when you put it on a plate and no liquid separates out to the side. 

You may need to adjust the spices as you go. 

The barn

The house

Snowball bush

Running the wood splitter

Looking very rugged and handsome....

Happy to have help for the day.

Soccer boy perfects his swing...

Reading girl got loaded up by Farmer Dan - what a strong girl!
Finished sauce:  we add cinnamon to taste to our fall sauce.

Finished applebutter